While we tend to think of Woody Allen's comedies as being more cerebral and slightly off-the-wall, his only work written expressly for the stage is a madcap farce packed with fast-paced action and hilarious one-liners.

It's also 25 years old, and much of the 1966 humor is no longer topical."Don't Drink the Water" is set during the mid-'60s in an unnamed Eastern European country (the 1969 screen version calls it Vulgaria) behind the Iron Curtain - a country which, in the 1990s, is probably enjoying freedom.

The time is 1966. The plot involves a hapless New Jersey caterer, who takes a snapshot of an off-limits military installation, and ends up seeking asylum with his wife and daughter in the U.S. Embassy.

"Asylum" is the operative word here.

That's what this embassy most closely resembles.

The ambassador, somewhat reluctantly - and with ample reason - leaves his affairs in the hands of his klutzy son, completely unaware of the impending disaster.

The Hollanders of New Jersey come running into the embassy about the same time that the U.S. is planning to host a visit by an important visitor, the Sultan of Bashier.

The comedy is fast and furious as Axel, the ambassador's son, quickly turns what has been a remote, relatively unknown embassy into an international news event, with enraged communist protesters marching outside the gates, and an assortment of strange people not-so-safely held hostage inside.

As are all HCT productions, "Don't Drink the Water" is double-cast.

We saw the first of two New Year's Eve performances, which had some actors from both casts.

Ron Johnson and Annette Wright were hilarious as the outspoken caterer and his openly irked wife (it was HER brother who got them into this mess - they could've spent two lovely weeks in Atlantic Beach, instead of an interminable time cooped up inside the embassy - while his catering business slides deeper and deeper into oblivion, thanks to the dumb associate running things back home).

Gary Stuart Insch, as Axel, and Teresa Francis Wilde, as Susan (they're in the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday cast), were equally wonderful as the ambassador's nincompoop son and the Hollanders' adventurous daughter.

The role of Axel is athletic to the extreme. The guy is always getting entangled in the telephone cord and pratfalls his way through one escapade after another.

(Be forewarned: Avoid the front-row seats, if you can. Sitting this close to some of the action could be hazardous to your health.)

Director Ron A. Jewett and assistant director Don Cosney (who plays Walter in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cast), have done a fine job recreating the look and feel of the 1960s in a comedy that works very well for the Hale Center Theater's intimate setting.

A couple of other cast members we should single out (and bear in mind that whether or not you see them depends on which night you catch the show) are Fabio Alberto, who was excellent as the stern-faced Krojack, the communist police agent, and Leslie Warwood as Father Drobney (who really earns his "Holy Houdini" nickname).

This is not the "thinking man's comedy" we normally associate with Woody Allen. It's just an evening of hilarious fun - adding its own kind of warmth to these unbearably frosty nights.